Guinness Six Nations Championship
Scots have point to prove to Welsh coach Gatland
Leading role: Stuart Hogg (pic: SNS Group)
The last time Warren Gatland named his British and Irish Lions squad, just two Scotland players made the cut.
Tommy Seymour and Stuart Hogg were the only players deemed good enough by the current Wales coach to make his initial squad for the 2017 tour to New Zealand.
Ahead of tomorrow’s final Six Nations match between the teams in Llanelli, Gatland has already thrown down the gauntlet to the Scots, claiming they need to prove their mental toughness in away games if they want to be considered for next summer’s tour to South Africa.
“We know how hard Scotland are to beat at Murrayfield but it is important as a group that they play well on the road as we are playing South Africa on the road,” said Gatland.
“We are playing the world champions away and we want players that are mentally tough to handle the pressure. That is the important thing.”
Those pointed remarks may just provide the catalyst for Gregor Townsend’s side to bring the curtain down on a delayed championship with a rare win in the valleys.
“What better way to start to influence Warren’s thoughts than to go out and have a very good performance this weekend,” said Townsend.
“This is the first one in front of us as a team and as individuals about getting on that Lions tour, which I know our players will be hugely motivated to do.”
Victory in Llanelli (kick-off 2.15pm) would see the Scots secure a first win in Wales for 18 years and in the process register three wins in the tournament for a third time in five years. Italy and France have already been defeated.
A positive result in the Parc y Scarlets to close off the championship 273 days after opening with a defeat to Ireland in Dublin would also set them up nicely for the forthcoming series of Autumn Nations Cup matches.
The visitors will be considerably strengthened by the return of Finn Russell, the fly half having patched up his differences with Townsend after breaching squad protocols before a ball had been kicked in the Six Nations.
The 28-year-old came in from the cold as a substitute against Georgia a week ago and has been reinstated in the starting XV at the expense of the unfortunate Adam Hastings.
“There’s competition at that level for the 10 jersey,” Townsend added. “I’m sure it’ll continue over the next few years. It is difficult to leave out someone who’s played a big part in the team’s progress during the Six Nations.
“But on the flip side you’ve got someone who can really add something when he comes on if it’s at 10 or 12.”
Stuart Hogg is also back as skipper after club success with Exeter Chiefs and Jonny Gray has also been recalled.
Neither Wales or Scotland can win the championship this year, with Ireland, England and France all in with a chance of claiming the spoils tomorrow.
England take on Italy in Rome (4.45pm), while France host the table-topping Irish in Paris at 8.05pm.